Not #ThemToo

I’m flabbergasted. Why did the Kavanaugh hearings convince so many GOP women of a certain age that past sexual harassment was no longer cause for prosecution?

sister sledging chartHere’s what we know. The Economist is reporting from its YouGov survey. Between November 2017 and September 2018, the percentage of female Trump voters over age 65 who believe “men who sexually harassed women 20 years ago should keep their jobs today” leaped from about 30% to near 80%.

What gives?

The article suggests a couple of explanations. Perhaps this group of mature women worries about the professional status of their grown sons. They don’t want teenage peccadillos held against their “boys” in their adult careers. But that would apply equally to female Clinton voters of the same age, and that group has swerved in the opposite direction.

Or, The Economist wonders, do older GOP women have a “we survived it, so will you” attitude toward sexual harassment? Something we might call MMSS (Mad Men Survivor Syndrome)? That seems equally sketchy to this reporter. Even if some Trump voters feel that way, it doesn’t seem like it would be enough to push the needle so far.

Finally, The Economist suggests that this demographic is merely parroting the attitudes of their domineering husbands. They cite one observer from the Midwest who reported watching GOP husbands filling in ballots for their wives as well. Could that really be such a widespread phenomenon? And, even if so, why were the numbers so different as recently as November 2017?

In the end, none of the explanations offered make sense to me. They don’t adequately explain why so many GOP voters embraced this “water-under-the-bridge” attitude toward sexual harassment.

Any suggestions out there? Any GOP-voting women have a better explanation for us?

Advertisements

I Am Out of Whack

I’m absolutely flummoxed. New poll numbers reported in The Economist make me wonder how I got so out of whack with what most people are thinking. Am I missing something?metoo backlash economist

Here’s what we know: According to The Economist,

this year-long storm of allegations, confessions and firings has actually made Americans more sceptical [sic–wacky Brits] about sexual harassment.

With only one categorical exception, it appears the respondents in the Economist poll tend to feel more suspicious today about women who complain about sexual harassment than they did last year. Only Clinton voters, that is, are more likely today to think that twenty-year-old harassment accusations are worth acting upon. And even those Clinton voters are more likely now to think that false accusations are a bigger problem than unreported assaults, and that women’s complaints cause more problems than they solve.

Can I really be this out of touch with majority opinion? In my imagination, at least, the last year has provided a public coming-to-terms with the dangers and demons of sexual harassment. It has forced all of us to reckon with old demons of frat-boy antics and glib sexual aggression.

But unless I’m reading this wrong, my sense of how my fellow Americans are feeling is not even close to reality. Can someone please explain this to me?

1.) How is it possible that more people are more suspicious of women’s accusations than of men’s aggressive actions? And

2.) What was it in the past year that made people feel this way?

Is THIS What Keeps Conservatives Out of Academia?

It’s not a conspiracy. It’s not even a hiring bias. According to experts like Neil Gross, the reason we don’t have more conservative professors in the liberal arts is mainly self-selection. And in the goofy higher-ed headlines this week we see gossipy confirmation.

gross

Could conservatives make it in this environment?

As SAGLRROILYBYGTH are well aware, there really is a tilt to most liberal-arts college faculties, at least at the more selective schools. Neil Gross argued, however, that conservative conspiracy theories don’t hold water. It’s not that universities consciously—or even unconsciously—discriminate against conservative intellectuals. Rather, people who think of themselves as conservatives tend not to go into certain academic fields.

One of the most striking parts of a depressingly ugly higher-ed news item this week is the way it seems to offer anecdotal confirmation of this trend.

Here’s what happened: A former graduate student is suing New York University for harassment and abuse during his time there. He had studied with the prominent scholar Avital Ronell. He complains that she wrote him endless creepy emails, kept him from leaving town, and generally over-controlled his life.

In her own defense, Prof. Ronell described their communications this way:

Our communications — which Reitman now claims constituted sexual harassment — were between two adults, a gay man and a queer woman, who share an Israeli heritage, as well as a penchant for florid and campy communications arising from our common academic backgrounds and sensibilities.

For example, at one point she sent her student this email:

I am a bit weepy and confused, a normal aftermath I suppose, and also a response to the separation from you … But I will try to gain some ground with a visit to shrinky-winky and see if I can’t develop another kind of report for you! … So many kisses for my guardian angel.

And at one point he responded like this:

Mon Avital, beloved and special one, I only now relieved [sic] your beautiful and exquisite message … I thank you for your infinite understanding and sensitivities which are always beyond measure, all of which I reciprocate with tenderness and love. I thank you so much for walking me through this catabasis. I don’t know how I would have survived without you. You are the best !!! I love you so much. You are the best, my joy, my miracle. Kisses and devotion always. Yours – n

Regardless of the legal outcome of this harassment suit, this sort of “florid and campy” style of endless email back-and-forth would be very difficult for most people to keep up with. Why did the student endure these sort of over-the-top emotional expectations? According to all concerned, Professor Ronell was a superstar in her field. She had—and repeatedly reminded her student she had—the power to make or break his career.

And to my eye, that’s where we find the culture-war rub. Very few people of any sort of ideological background would be willing or able to maintain this sort of intense, intimate relationship with a professor. If I were a conservative intellectual with academic ambitions, though (and I’m not), I think I would be discouraged from even applying to the NYU program, especially if I thought Prof. Ronell would not see me as sharing her “florid and campy” cultural style. In this one elite grad program, then, we can see how fewer conservatives might end up applying to a top program and fewer therefore might end up in top tenure-track academic jobs.

Is this case the norm? Not at all. Indeed, it has only attracted so much morbid curiosity because it is an outlier. But it IS the norm for elite graduate programs in the humanities to serve as the only gatekeepers to top academic careers. And if this sad story can tell us anything, it is that only a very specific sort of person could possibly survive, much less flourish, in some of the those graduate programs.

“Conservative Thought” or “Bigotry”? A Conservative Professor Makes Waves

Is it “conservative” or “bigoted” to express skepticism toward sensitivity training about transgender people? About sexual-harassment investigations?

Steven Hayward finds himself facing these questions as he completes his one-year position as visiting professor of conservative thought at the famously left-leaning University of Colorado at Boulder. ILYBYGTH readers may remember the program that brought Hayward out to Boulder. Conservative critics of the university had complained that the school did not include any conservative intellectual presence. As a result, outside political pressure pushed through the program to welcome a series of one-year visiting professors to the campus. The hope was that these prominent conservative intellectuals would spark debate and a more profound sense of intellectual diversity.

Steven Hayward

Steven Hayward

Predictably, the sparks have begun flying. Hayward has been accused of bigotry. His representations of conservative thought, he has charged, have been said to “‘border’ on ‘hate speech.’” In response, Hayward declared, “they’re welcome to fire me if they want.”

What’s the issue? Hayward publicly questioned university policies about sexual harassment and gender sensitivity training. In an interview and an editorial a few weeks back, Hayward asked if the CU philosophy department was really guilty of sexual harassment. In his editorial, Hayward compared the investigation to a witch hunt:

Unquestionably philosophy is among of the most male-dominated disciplines in universities today, but inviting outside review by the American Philosophical Association’s (APA) Committee on the Status of Women was guaranteed to produce a finding as predictable as the Salem Committee to Investigate Witchcraft in 1691. The irony of this situation is the unacknowledged reversal of the presumption of “privilege” that was at the heart of the original (and justified) feminist complaint about sexism a generation ago. While it may still be justified in the case of academic philosophy, it should not be beyond question whether mere statistical “underrepresentation” should be regarded as prima facie evidence of guilt, and therefore allowing the APA report to assert damning findings about the whole department while disclosing virtually no concrete facts.

And recently, Hayward poked fun at campus sensitivity trainings. New faculty at Boulder, as at many college campuses, must attend a session geared toward increasing their awareness about transgender sensitivity. What pronouns should we use when addressing students? How can we avoid unintentional offense to those who do not fit into neat traditional gender divisions? Hayward dismissed this sort of training as “gender-self-identification whim-wham.”

Students reacted with predictable fury. “Bigotry is not diversity,” proclaimed student editorialists Chris Schaefbauer and Caitlin Pratt. In Hayward’s breezy dismissal of the complaints of sexual harassment in the philosophy department, Schaefbauer and Pratt charged, he engaged in the worst sorts of “victim-blaming.” In his dismissive comments about sensitivity toward gender-identity issues, Hayward “invalidate[d] the lived realities of transgender individuals and mock[ed] the LGBTQ community as a whole.”

The kerfuffle has raised some important questions about intellectual diversity and culture-war politics. Is it possible for a university to include a diversity of opinions? Or is there a need for inclusive environments to police any ideas that challenge that sense of inclusivity?

As we’ve seen recently with the case of Brendan Eich at Mozilla, some issues seem to include less wiggle-room than others. It is widely considered “bigotry” these days to oppose same-sex marriage. But I would suggest, in spite of what some conservative intellectuals have asserted, that it is not seen as bigotry to oppose abortion. It might be seen as “bigotry” to make fun of non-traditional attitudes toward gender identity, but it is generally not seen as bigotry to press for lower taxes or more free-market solutions to social problems.

Can a university include a diversity of opinions about sexual-harassment policies? About gender-sensitivity training? Or, to paraphrase one pithy conservative commenter on Hayward’s blog, have birkenstocks become the new jackboots?

It wasn’t a tough call to predict this sort of situation. Back when Hayward was announced as the first Visiting Professor of Conservative Thought at Boulder, your humble editor made the following guess:

this experiment seems certain to degenerate into the most fruitless sort of culture-war grandstanding.

It’s not very satisfying to be proven right when the case was so clear. It can be depressingly difficult to engage in discussions that cross culture-war trench lines.

Conservative thought has always struggled with accusations of bigotry. By framing themselves as defenders of tradition and traditionalism, conservative intellectuals have put themselves in the position of defending the gender and racial hierarchies that were part and parcel of those traditions. Perhaps most famously, conservative intellectual guru William F. Buckley supported segregationism in the 1950s. Though Buckley later repudiated those views, we must ask a difficult question: Will conservative intellectuals always have to defend yesterday’s traditions?

And, on the other side, student leftists have struggled with accusations of hypersensitivity. It is not difficult to lampoon campus activists. Students preach diversity while sometimes demonstrating a stern intolerance toward ideas that ruffle their feathers.

Is this just a question of irreconcilable cultural politics? Will conservative intellectuals continue to outrage leftist sensibilities? Or is there some way to find agreement about the definition and value of intellectual diversity across the culture-war trenches?